Tag Archives: Labour Party

Whatever you say, say nothing – Lockout 2013

There are dates in every nation’s calendar that demand remembrance. When those dates fall on the centenary of a significant event then that demand for remembrance is greatly magnified. A remembrance ceremony marking the centenary of a significant event then becomes an event in itself and enters the collective memory. There is one opportunity on the centenary of a significant event to get it right, or to get it wrong, to honour the participants in that original event, or to dishonour their deeds and by implication the participants themselves, either by distorting the narrative, the manner of its representation, or by grievous omission.

It is the last of these, omission, that was particularly startling in what was billed as the National Commemoration of the 1913 Lockout on the 31st of August 2013, the centenary of Bloody Sunday on which date the Dublin Metropolitan Police attacked and battered protesting strikers in the main street of Dublin, injuring between 400 and 600 and killing two men, James Nolan and John Byrne.

The National Commemoration was attended by the President, Michael D. Higgins. The President arrived, listened to and watched various performances, laid a wreath at the Larkin statue, led a minute’s silence in memory of those who died and those who suffered during the Lockout, took refreshments in the GPO with other dignitaries, returned to his seat to enjoy other performances, and then departed. Nothing strange about what the President did, but it is what he didn’t do that is strange. The President didn’t speak to the people on the subject of the Lockout during the course of the National Commemoration.

President Higgins has not shown himself in the past to be afraid to address issues that may be contentious. He is a skilled and adept public speaker, well aware of the limitations that his office places on him in terms of straying into the party political arena or on matters of government policy. He has spoken on the Lockout previously. There is no doubt that he has a deep interest in the historical event itself and its use in evaluating the present and projecting into the future. Sharing his analysis and his ideas with the public is, perhaps, what he does best. He is not known to be reticent about using the public platform to stimulate discussion – the opposite is, thankfully, the case, and the public seem to approve of that aspect of his presidency.

And so, the question is why? Why did the President, whose words are listened to and valued by and who enjoys the trust and respect of a significant majority of the people, do the unexpected and remain silent on the subject of the 1913 Lockout on such an auspicious occasion as the National Commemoration of the centenary of that event when the reasonable expectation was, as usual, that he would speak to those present and, via the media, to the nation?

Perhaps there is a simple answer. The President may have been unable to deliver a speech through being indisposed in some relevant way. He may, as one observer suggested, have not wished to take from the community element of performances, but that seems unlikely since there were also professional actors and musical performers taking part at other times in the programme. Perhaps there are other simple answers to the question, but they don’t come to mind easily.

Also present at the commemorations were Fine Gael Minister Jimmy Deenihan, Labour Party leader and Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore and his party colleagues Pat Rabbitte and Ruairi Quinn, the latter under increasing fire for his extraordinary and arbitrary decision to remove history as a compulsory subject in secondary schools, without any public discussion. Could a less simple answer be related to their presence? Could it be that their involvement in the neo-liberal austerity agenda which must have formed part of any serious speech on the subject of the 1913 Lockout and the conditions today of workers, the unemployed, the emigrated, the sick, the homeless and the dispossessed, the under-educated and under-resourced children, and the poor in general, might have consequently led to public embarrassment, and perhaps spontaneous protest against their unrelenting support for failed, deeply damaging government policies?

It is unusual to find four government ministers at an event such as this and to note the absence of even one attempt to take the microphone and to speak on the historical event and the main personalities involved, even if that, as sometimes happens, is no more than empty rhetoric and oily words. Extraordinary, really.

There too were the principal organisers of the event, leading members of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and affiliated trade unions. A proper analysis of the Lockout and its relevance to today’s issues, the importance and role of trade unions, and their performance over the intervening century particularly since the inception of Social Partnership in 1987 – the sort of issues that the President could normally be expected to touch on – might have proven uncomfortable too.

Any honest critique of the effects of the social partnership model could hardly avoid addressing in some way issues such as the fall-off in density of union membership in the workforce from 54% in 1987 – the start of social partnership – to 20% in 2007 – the end of the ‘boom’, and the fall-off in membership among young workers, part-timers and the lower skills with a higher concentration today of members in the professional and technical grades – mirroring the change in demographics among Labour Party voters. Trade unions, like the Labour Party, have lost much of their traditional base, to the detriment of vulnerable workers in the case of the unions, and the disenfranchisement of the working class in the case of Labour.

There are those who would also criticise the social partnership model for the political dangers that it can impose. One notorious and similar previous model is that contrived by Benito Mussolini around 1930, which brought trade unions and corporate interests together to work with government – as one of the pillars of Italian Fascism.

It may seem extreme to mention fascism in the context of the Irish trade unions, and that linkage is not the intention, rather the dangers of social partnership in which the driving force may be a government of questionable ethics. While Bertie Ahern enjoyed much popularity particularly during the property bubble, the spectacle of him being applauded to the stage at the ICTU Biennial Conference in Bundoran in 2007 (when there were many indicators that the economy was tanking), where he delivered his infamous remark that he did not know how people who moaned about the economy did not ‘commit suicide’. He was then applauded back down from the stage and out of the conference centre. Some could think that that was a ‘Berlusconi moment’. It was certainly unfortunate.

James Connolly would have ‘got’ that moment, just as he would have ‘got’ social partnership. What did he write in the Irish Worker, two months into the Lockout? “It is war, war to the end, against all the unholy crew who, with the cant of democracy on their lying lips, are forever crucifying the Christ of labour between the two thieves of Land and Capital”.

It is no longer ‘war, war’ between the two rightfully antagonistic forces of labour and capital, but ‘jaw,jaw’, or at least since the disintegration of social partnership, no sign of a return to ‘war, war’ – the strategy that many living in straitened conditions might prefer the trade unions to opt for, and who have often vocally expressed their wish for that change. Where, for instance, is the ‘war, war’ on Zero Hours Contracts, criticised by Minister of State Alex White of the Labour Party thus – “We have a new “precariat” in some sectors of the labour force, with people working on zero-hours contracts, short-term contracts, or for free on unpaid internships. These trends can undermine rights earned by past workers, and the relevant statutory protections may require strengthening, or at least review. Zero-hours contracts shape a life of uncertainty for people where their ability to budget for the future or manage a stable family life is particularly difficult.”?

Again, we might have expected that a dynamic trade union leadership might have nominated their best and most inspiring speaker to seize on the opportunities that the centenary of the Lockout offered to advance the cause of labour. But no, an opportunity rejected, it seems. Why?

‘Tis passing strange’ too, as the man himself might put it, how James Connolly got ne’er a proper mention at the National Commemoration other than in the rendition of the Ballad of James Larkin sung by Jimmy Kelly. Hardly likely that the President would have made that omission, had he spoken, which omission is of itself an insult to Connolly whose role in the Lockout was immense. It is, of course, correct to highlight James Larkin’s enormous role in the Lockout, but extremely churlish to downplay Connolly’s powers and sacrifices in that endeavour. It was not a one-man show. That churlishness brings to mind the Irish Labour Party’s inability or unwillingness to properly celebrate the role that Connolly played in founding that party on its centenary in 2012, or to champion his eloquent and visionary social philosophy which is the envy of others around the world other than in brief references that had a distinctly weasely feel to them.

Like that other National Commemoration forced on a recalcitrant State, the annual 1916 commemoration, this one too seemed smothered by the dead hand of State, or of other agencies or a combination of both, and  starved of the oxygen of honest appraisal and discussion. Perhaps that was the plan, perhaps not.

One lesson learned by those who understand the importance of these centenaries to the nation and to the future is that the state has shown itself to be unable or unwilling to trust the public to own its own great history. By its inept and insulting control of the National Commemoration of the 1913 Lockout, including the barricading of the citizens, the employment of a private security company of bad repute – G4S – to interfere with public access at the event, the searching even of women’s handbags and men’s eye-glass cases, the state has shown itself to be unfit for the job of commemorating the 1916 revolution. In 1966, a far larger event than this one was, not a barricade was to be seen, the police presence was discreet, citizens were free to approach the President of Ireland, Eamon de Valera, if they wished, or any other attendee among the ‘elite’. What has changed, other than obsessive control-freakery?

And so the Fine Gael minister and three Labour ministers remained stoically silent on the day. The trade union leadership offered a bland statement via Sallyann Kinihan. So be it. Perhaps it was the safer option.

But can we have an answer, simple or complex, to this question? Why did the President not speak at the National Commemoration of the 1913 Lockout?

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A Presidency With Enormous Potential

Yes, at the end of a tortuous journey, made all the more tortuous by a deeply flawed ‘journalism’, we have a President. In choosing Michael D Higgins to be President, over a million voters have given the wealthy Irish, and the rest of the political class, grounds for real unease.

In his early reactions to his election, Michael D has made clear his intention to work towards the creation of a true republic, something that will require real change – “This necessary transformation which has now begun will, I hope, result in making the values of equality, respect, participation in an active citizenship, the characteristic of the next seven years. The reconnection of society, economy and ethics, is a project we cannot postpone”.

Equality, respect, active citizenship, society and ethics are words that do not fit into the neo-liberal lexicon. They are words that have long been absent from the discourse of the southern Irish political class, other than for their propaganda value in which their use is entirely cynical. This absence is not a recent occurrence, but is part of a nine-decades-long counter-revolution, the central aim of which has been to defend privilege by maintaining a right-wing political hegemony in which lip-service was paid to the notion of a ‘republic’ while the principles upon which a genuine republic must be based – liberty, equality, community and justice – were consistently thrashed.

The maintenance of that right-wing political hegemony has been achieved by co-opting a willing corporate and state media – itself right-wing and hegemonic, complete with its token regard for ‘other views’ so as to present the necessary illusion of an impartial/balanced face to the public. Even the most cursory analysis of media content across the entire mainstream spectrum reveals the values that are given primacy, values consistent with the needs and desires of the wealthy and the rest of the political class, values which have no regard for those principles that underpin a republic, values that are contrary to the best interests of the vast majority of the Irish people.

So,  Michael D Higgins has lined up powerful people and powerful institutions as necessary targets and, wise man that he is, is very well aware that they will set their sights on him as a target. We should expect subtle and not-so-subtle attempts to undermine his project of creating a real republic with an active citizenry as its owners.

But President Higgins will not be an easy target, or a willing fall-guy. Over a long political career he has demonstrated courage and consistency of belief, often having to suffer the jibes of fools, and almost always winning at least the political and moral arguments, if not the logical outcome of winning those arguments. He has very significant public support based on a published manifesto in which the true republic and the citizen were integral parts, and that public is substantially the readership and audience for the media which would have to provide the theatre in which attempts to undermine him would play out. Readership and audience brings advertising, and the media would do well to remember that you lose one and then you lose the other.

Drawing on both his academic and political careers, Michael D will be a formidable opponent for the ‘commentariat’, particularly if the role of the media in a democracy comes up for examination – which it must do as an important byproduct of the discussion around creating a true republic. He was very much prepared to tackle powerful vested interests during his successful period as Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht, a brief which included broadcasting policy and with which he engaged in an intelligent and resolute manner. He was very much prepared to draw on his deep convictions regarding justice, civil and human rights, opposition to imperialism and to war, to take up often unpopular or little reported causes and issues, on national and international fronts, and to withstand attacks from misguided, or ignorant, or malign commentators, including powerful governments.

Why would a man like Michael D put so much emphasis on a project – that of creating true republic – that has been buried for 90 years? A look at his background reveals at least part of the answer. He is the son of a man who fought for the Irish Republic of the Proclamation of 1916, not just in the War of Independence, but in the brutal and divisive Civil War that raged after the signing of the Anglo Irish Treaty and its ratification in 1922. His father, being on the losing side in that Civil War, suffered in terms of his health as a prisoner, and found it very difficult to find employment after his release in an Irish Free State ruled by anti-republican counter-revolutionaries. That was an experience common to very many on the republican side, both men and women, and through his father, Michael D. knew some of those people too. The Higgins family suffered greatly because of this, and so Michael D carries memories of not just his father’s sacrifice and of the damage his courageous participation in the struggle to establish the republic caused to him, but of the entire family’s sacrifice and suffering. It is a very emotional area for him.

In occasional private conversations, some short and others more substantial, mostly relating to modern Irish history, culture and society, Michael D has always come across to me as someone who is inspired by James Connolly to a far greater extent than anyone else in top echelons of the Labour Party. Perhaps it is this that has had him at times at the margins of the Labour Party. He is sometimes referred to as being the left-wing of the party, although there are a small number of other TDs who also occupy that position – but far too few.

Arising out of his presidency, the centenary celebrations of the founding of the Irish Labour Party which will occur in 2012 may become far more interesting than they might otherwise have been. In opening up public discussions on what sort of republic we want to build, and on the role citizens will have in that republic, Michael D may influence, from outside the Labour Party, the ideological direction that the party moves in over the next few years. And then in the following year we will have the centenary of the 1913 Lock-out in which the Labour Party’s founders, James Connolly and Jim Larkin, took the leading roles on the workers’ side, adding yet more pressure to today’s Labour Party to move towards the left.

Then, coming closer to the end of Michael D’s term in office there will be the big centenary in 2016, that of the revolution of April 24th 1916 and the Proclamation of the Irish Republic. James Connolly was central to both the revolutionary action and the ideology of the Republic that that action sought to bring into being. Paragraph four of the Proclamation is, without doubt, Connolly’s work. It is, in effect, the Workers’ Republic, or at least provides the space in which that republic could be created by free citizens.

Michael D, fortunately, is the President who will, should he remain in good health, preside over the commemorations. There are few people who understand so well the deep meanings that lie in the text of the Proclamation of the Irish Republic, and fewer still so able to mine those meanings and ideas, and to articulate them to the citizens. While most citizens have probably not read the Proclamation – a document that was virtually suppressed because of the counter-revolution – and fewer still have delved into the deeper structure of it in terms of what it means, there is a great emotional bond between a majority of Irish citizens and the Proclamation, even if they don’t fully understand it. This emotional attachment is something that, no doubt, Michael D will draw on over the course of the next four years in the run-up to 2016. After all, the sort of true republic that he has indicated he wishes to speak about is contained, substantially, in the Proclamation.

It will be intriguing to watch how all of this plays out. There is no doubt that Michael D has thought deeply about these things and these opportunities, and about how he might influence events through the power of his ideas and of his words. He knows that there is an enormous amount of goodwill for him out there among the public, that Sinn Féin, a party on an upward curve, will support him in his efforts to create a true republic and to face down a corrupt political class of which top media operatives are a part and which Sinn Féin has no love for, that in his former party, Labour, many among the parliamentary party but especially among the ordinary membership hold him in special affection, and that, crucially, history has given him significant centenaries and commemorations during his term in office.

The future looks brighter now for those who have been waiting a lifetime for a real republic, owned, as Plato suggested it must be over two thousand years ago, by the citizens. He will need allies as he sets about his project. As the ramifications of what establishing of a real republic entails become more apparent to powerful vested interests, including among those main-stream media operatives and commentators who act as spokes-men/women for the so-called ‘elite’ and the wealthy, President Higgins will need those allies even more, and will need them to make their voices heard.

This is a presidency with enormous potential. It demands steadfast commitment on the part of Michael D to see it bear fruit, and it demands equal commitment from those of us who believe the Irish revolution of 1916 must be brought to completion, and that the Irish Republic must stand proudly in the world as James Connolly wished it would-  a sovereign, enlightened, progressive republic acting as a beacon of hope to the oppressed people of the world. Its day has come.


A Proclamation Too Far

The news that Kathleen O’Meara, a former Labour Party Senator, intends to seek her party’s nomination for the Irish Presidential election in October is not particularly remarkable in itself. After all, provided she can muster enough support to secure the nomination, it will be for the electorate to decide whether or not she is presidential material. What is remarkable is her declared desire to fashion a new proclamation to be issued on the centenary of the existing Proclamation of the Irish Republic of 24th April 1916.

O’Meara wants, she says, “…to build a project, a national engagement, a conversation which would take place in every community in Ireland, asking those questions and hearing from the people themselves about who they want us, Ireland, to be.” Admitting that the first proclamation was ambitious and inspiring she concedes that the country has not lived up to it. And so, her solution appears to be to come up with a better proclamation herself – after having a conversation, of course, with the rest of us.

Her ambition does not rest with coming up with a better proclamation. “Amidst the wreckage we are now in, is an opportunity to start again, to preserve the best of what we have created and build a new vision to take this nation forward. The theme of the next presidency, under my leadership, would be building the nation. This is why I am seeking this nomination,” she said. Well now! O’Meara is going to build the nation too, presumably by having a conversation with the rest of us.

Well, if Kathleen O’Meara wants to have a conversation she might start by explaining to us the failure of the Labour Party since 1918 to live up to the reasonable expectations of its founder, James Connolly, that it would be a socialist party and therefore, by his rational definition, a republican party. She might explain why the Labour Party failed to effectively challenge the brutal counter-revolution that began in earnest with the creation of the Free State, and why the Labour Party surrendered its constituency to de Valera’s Fianna Fail, once that party was founded.

O’Meara might enlighten us about the 45 years from 1932 (the year Fianna Fail assumed power) when the Labour Party was led first by William Norton and then Brendan Corish, both of them members of the secretive Catholic masonic order, the Knights of Columbanus. No surprise then that Corish, Labour Party leader from 1960-1977 stated that “I am an Irishman second; I am a Catholic first.…If the Hierarchy gives me any direction with regard to Catholic social teaching or Catholic moral teaching, I accept without qualification in all respects the teaching of…the Church to which I belong.”

Another part of the conversation might deal with the Labour Party’s subservience to the two right-wing parties, Fine Gael (most often) and Fianna Fail (once), in always ditching the core values of any proper ‘labour’ party so as to achieve a temporary sojourn in coalition governments in which it played second fiddle to the larger conservative party, and dutifully acquiesced in the implementation of policies that  ran counter to socialist, or even social democratic, principles – time after time.

And it would be most interesting if Kathleen O’Meara explained why the Labour Party turned its back on the republic laid out in the 1916 Proclamation, even though that template for the republic is patently a socialist one, written, without doubt, by the founder of the Labour Party, James Connolly. She might then go on to explain why her proclamation is going to be a better one for the mass of citizens than the very instrument that gave them, and her, the right to be citizens and not subjects – the Proclamation of the Irish Republic. In doing that she will have to explain which line, which word of paragraph four of the Proclamation she has a problem with and would discard. And if she does not have a problem with it, then why is she proposing to write a new one, rather than taking the existing one out on the road with her to promote it, especially since most Irish citizens have some emotional attachment to the 1916 Proclamation, even if they haven’t read it or don’t fully understand its meaning, and many others, knowing what it means and promises, have a rational attachment to it?

A charitable view of Kathleen O’Meara’s dual-ambition to write a new proclamation and build the nation is that it is the product of a rushed decision to seek the nomination and an urgent need to have a ‘message’ or theme to sell to those who will select the Labour Party candidate. The uncharitable might suggest arrogance on her part, but since that might be unfair, let’s be charitable. It is likely, given the evidence of the Labour Party’s record in glossing over the party’s connection to James Connolly so as not to upset its middle-class membership and constituency, and its consistent failure to champion his beautiful vision of the ideal republic, that O’Meara knows only too well that the Irish Republic of the proclamation is too hard a thing a sell to the party, particularly given the party’s unfortunate history of unnecessary compromise with the right-wing anti-republican parties, Fine Gael and Fianna Fail.

Given the list of other possible candidates for the presidential election it is hard to see anything better than an insincere genuflection in the direction of the 1916 Proclamation coming from any of them – with the possible exception of Michael D Higgins, so long hamstrung by his membership of a less than ideal party for promoting his personal and political values, and David Norris. The rest of them would rather bury the ideas of the Proclamation in a quick-lime grave and compel the mass of Irish citizens to continue on the road to perdition while their own political class maintains and strengthens the political hegemony that denies the possibility of constructing a real republic.

What is certain is that there is plenty more guff coming down the line during the presidential campaign. So swallow hard, gird your loins, let the waffle commence. We already know who will be the losers –  the people, and therefore the Republic, again.


Constitutional reform must be citizen-driven

It may seem churlish to argue against initiatives which claim to seek a greater  involvement by citizens in the affairs of the State, or, in the case of the Labour Party to engage citizens with the process of constitutional reform. But let’s be churlish – with good reason.

Both of these initiatives come out of the political class – a class which has shown scant regard for the notion of equality of citizenship since the foundation of the State, preferring to champion a ‘plutarchy’, a combination of rule by the wealthy and by a special ‘elite’ – a small number of ‘expert’ and/or ’eminent’ people. The outcome of their endeavours to date has been the creation of a hegemonic State in which the desires of the few have precedence over the needs of the many.

Both initiatives have, on the surface, the appearance of offering a semi-revolutionary outcome. The ‘We the Citizens’ initiative, funded by Atlantic Philanthropies, wishes to ‘renew democracy’ and ‘restore trust in  public life’ by creating a ‘national citizens assembly’ to meet in Dublin in June. 150 participants will be selected randomly from a poll of over 1000 people on the electoral register and will, according to the organisers, ‘consider proposals on making the political institutions of the State better suited to serving citizens’. Grand! We can all applaud that effort. Well not all – some may remain churlish, again with good reason.

Who are the organisers of this seemingly fine initiative, ‘We the Citizens’? They are, almost every one of them, members of the same political class that has overseen the maintenance of the very plutarchy that has destroyed real democracy in this so-called ‘Republic’ of Ireland. Apart from Fiach MacConghail, Director/CEO of the Abbey Theatre, almost every other person listed on their publicity material is a senior academic in Irish or US universities. Some, like UCD Professor Brigid Laffan, are ardent advocates of the EU and of Ireland’s integration into it, some might say to the point of madness. Others, like Intel’s Head of Corporate Affairs Brendan Cannon come as advocates of corporate globalisation and capitalism, not seen as forces that promote human equality or true democracy.

The initiative is supported by yet more university academics including those who run the website politicalreform.ie. On the evidence to date there is no reason to suspect that the Trinity College school of politics which seems the driving force behind that website has any interest in genuinely radical reform of the State which, to be genuinely radical requires the destruction of the hegemony which sustains inequality, privilege and injustice.

Many of these arguments can be made against the Labour Party’s fig-leaf of ‘constitutional reform’. What the Labour Party proposes is a constitutional convention which would draw together ‘all strands of Irish society’ with a mandate to ‘review the constitution and draft a reformed one within a year’. Note – reform, not replace. The current 1937 Constitution is the basis on which inequality and injustice and privilege are founded.

And what of Labour’s notion of ‘all strands of society’. Not quite what it says on the tin. The 90 members would include 30 members of the Oireachtas – yes, the very same dysfunctional and corrupted Oireachtas that is destroying our integrity as a sovereign nation, again all members of the political class. Then there would be ’30 members [who] would be academic or practicing lawyers and others with experience or expertise from non-governmental associations and organisations’, again all members of the political class. Bringing up the rear-guard would be ’30 ordinary citizens’, outnumbered at least 2 to 1 by the political class members.

Even if both initiatives brought to their endeavours strong citizens who could stand up for themselves and their fellow citizens the likelihood is that the agenda of both initiatives will have been consciously or unconsciously skewed before a word is spoken. And when it comes to ‘expert’ advice to the citizens in advance of their deliberations, who will deliver that advice? Why, the self-same political class that has overseen the anti-republican direction that this corrupt, hegemonic State has taken, and who now propose to manage its reform!

What is the intended outcome of either of these initiatives? It is to create a ‘new’ republic, or even a ‘second republic’. What the real outcome will be is best summed up by an Irish saying “cur síoda ar an gabhar, is gabhar i gconaí é”, or “put silk on a goat, it’s still a goat”.

What no-one wants to mention is the only republic we have had – the republic laid out in the Proclamation of the Irish Republic of April 24th 1916 and which stood until the Treaty and the counter-revolution which followed immediately. It is, to the Irish political class, the leper that needs to be sheeted, the vampire that needs a stake in its heart, the mad uncle who needs to be locked away. They despise it for its purity and its practicality. They have contempt for its vision of a better future for all. They reject its concrete universal principles of freedom, equality and justice.

There is a real need for an alternative to these spurious pretenses at initiating ‘reform’. That alternative demands a truly democratic convention that does not privilege members of the political class, or any social class. It requires the engagement of citizens – ordinary citizens – to the task of getting the work underway. The process of creating real, meaningful and revolutionary change needs volunteer citizens – as was the case 100 years ago when all appeared lost, but was redeemed.

Minds must meet to start the process. The time was never more right. This volunteer stands ready. Who else will come to the task?


The Watchword of Labour

The Labour Party, founded in 1912 by James Connolly, Jim Larkin and William O’Brien, is in closed negotiations with Fine Gael, a party whose ethos and values lie in direct opposition to the ethos and values of Connolly, Larkin and O’Brien, over a programme for government to which both parties can sign up to.

The Labour Party website states that: ‘The founders of the Labour Party believed that for ordinary working people to shape society they needed a political party that was committed to serving their needs; they knew that there is only so much that trade unions and community organisations can do, an effective political party is needed to create a fair society.’

This barely skims the surface of what the founders believed, but we can rely on a line from the Proclamation of the Irish Republic for the fundamental principles that Connolly was prepared to die to establish, to understand his final position: “The Republic guarantees religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens, and declares its resolve to pursue the happiness and prosperity of the whole nation and of all its parts, cherishing all the children of the nation equally.”

The Labour website also states, with regard to the period after the 1918 elections: “The debate about the national issue pushed consideration of social issues into the background. Moreover, the major parties were conservative and opposed to socialism. This meant that there was little or no attention given to issues of social justice, such as poverty, unemployment and emigration which badly affected the lives of Irish working people.

Poverty, unemployment and emigration? If those words create a sense of déjà vu, then so too should the opening line of that quote – “The debate about the national issue pushed consideration of social issues into the background.”

Yes, we have been here before, many times. And now, as in previous times the leaders of the Labour Party, post-1916, will wrestle with their consciences, and the leadership will win, and win easily.

The Labour Party’s members, who just might exercise some authority over the leadership if they had a mind to, will be familiar with a song by James Connolly – indeed many of them will have joined in lusty renditions at Labour Party conferences and gatherings.

Just to remind them of Connolly’s stance on Labour’s duty, here it is:

The Watchword of Labour by James Connolly (1916)

Oh, hear ye the watchword of Labour,
the slogan of those who’d be free,
That no more to any enslaver
must Labour bend suppliant knee,
That we on whose shoulders are borne
the pomp and the pride of the great,
Whose toil they repay with their scorn,
must challenge and master our fate.

Then send it aloft on the breeze boys,
That watchword the grandest we’ve known
That Labour must rise from its knees, boys,
And claim the broad earth as its own.

Aye, we who oft won by our valour,
empires for our rulers and lords,
Yet knelt in abasement and squalor
to things we had made with our swords,
Now valour with worth will be blending,
when answering Labour’s command,
We arise from our knees and ascending
to manhood for freedom take stand.

Then send it aloft on the breeze boys,
That watchword the grandest we’ve known
That Labour must rise from its knees, boys,
And claim the broad earth as its own.

Then out from the field and the city
from workshop, from mill and from mine,
Despising their wrath and their pity,
we workers are moving in line,
To answer the watchword and token
that Labour gives forth as its own,
Nor pause till our fetters we’ve broken,
and conquered the spoiler and drone.

Then send it aloft on the breeze boys,
That watchword the grandest we’ve known
That Labour must rise from its knees, boys,
And claim the broad earth as its own.



Election Mania: the mud of political intrigue

Sometimes, up out of the mud that is political intrigue, comes a recollection that illuminates how flawed democracy can be when it is constructed on a foundation of ignorance, or prejudice or the unprincipled pursuit of power for power’s sake or for personal advancement.

In the mid 1990s, Eamon Gilmore responded to an observation that he was from the area of East Galway where Liam Mellows had led a successful campaign during the 1916 revolution, by saying that Mellows was ‘just another fucking Catholic nationalist’. That response was made outside RTE’s Television Centre after a ‘Questions & Answers’ programme, to me.

Eamon Gilmore is, of course, entitled to have an opinion about Mellows. In that, he may indeed have known more about Mellows 80 years later than did James Connolly in 1915. Did Connolly describe Mellows as ‘just another fucking Catholic nationalist’? He did not. Connolly said to his family that Mellows, then 20 years of age, was ‘the finest republican of them all’. So highly did Connolly think of Mellows, in common with the other members of the IRB Military Council, that when Mellows was placed under house arrest in England, Connolly sent his own daughter Nora to rescue Mellows and get him back in disguise to Ireland, so that he could command the forces in Galway.

There is a sad irony in the negotiations between Eamon Gilmore and Enda Kenny, the leader of Fine Gael, a party that has its political roots in the Free State’s first government. During the Civil War that ensued between that government and the republican anti-Treaty forces, Liam Mellows was captured along with Rory O’Connor, Joe McKelvey and Dick Barrett at the Four Courts, and held in Mountjoy Jail from June 1922. Six months later, on the 8th of December, the four genuinely heroic patriots of 1916 and the War of Independence were summarily shot – in brutal circumstances – in Mountjoy Jail by order of Fine Gael’s political ancestors, without trial. This is usually explained as an act of reprisal for the shooting of Sean Hales, a pro-Treaty member of parliament with which killing, as prisoners in the State’s custody, the four had no connection. But these extra-judicial murders were more probably a counter-revolutionary act, the clearing out of revered and therefore politically dangerous foes, and an act of State terrorism.

Eamon Gilmore claims to be a socialist, or at least a social democrat. What did James Connolly, the principal founding father of the Irish Labour Party say about socialism? He said that to be a socialist was to be a republican, and to be a republican was to be a socialist. How do Eamon Gilmore, and the rest of the old guard of the Labour Party, as they enter into negotiations with the right-wing Thatcherite Fine Gael Party, measure up to Connolly’s statement?

Neither Eamon Gilmore nor Enda Kenny bear any responsibility of the murders of Liam, Joe, Dick and Rory, or for the other awful acts of atrocity carried out by that first government. But they each have a responsibility, as political leaders, to know and understand the history of the State, of the Nation and of its people. More than that, they each have a responsibility to have their own distinct and identifiable political value system, and to transmit that value system, their personal political principles, to the citizens in a clear and honest way. There is no place in democratic political leadership for gross dishonesty, for playing the ‘cute hoor’, for ignorance, or prejudice, or the unprincipled pursuit of power for power’s sake or for personal advancement.

Did the voters not make that clear?



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